Interview with Her Excellency Mrs Orsolya Zsuzsanna Kovács, Ambassador of Hungary to the Republic of Poland
Q: The saying “Poles and Hungarians are two brotherly nations, standing together in battle and in celebration” has a deep-rooted tradition. Despite media-induced tensions, I am convinced that the bond between our two nations remains warm and strong. What can we do to make it even stronger?
A: Poland and Hungary share thousands of historical and cultural connections. In my view, these two countries are inseparable. They have always managed to overcome political hurdles. I firmly believe that we need to nurture this relationship, irrespective of any external factors. Last year, we opened two honorary consulate offices in Lublin and Rzeszów, thereby amplifying the Hungarian presence in eastern Poland. At the end of June in Cracow, I was delighted to participate in the annual general assembly of the Polish-Hungarian Chamber of Commerce.
The growth of our economic relations is an unequivocal success story. Poland is Hungary’s fifth most significant trading partner. Compared to the previous year, our exports grew by 19.4% in 2022, hitting 6.10 billion euros, while imports increased by 25.3% to 8.42 billion euros. The total trade in goods during this period, after a surge of 22.7%, reached 14.52 billion euros, marking a historic high. We also support numerous local initiatives. In July, we took part in the delightful Hungarian Day at a manor house in Sułkowice, where Alex Szilasi, one of Hungary’s most prominent pianists, performed. Currently, I am preparing for the traditional Hungarian Day that will be held in Szczawnica.
Q: The heads of the Visegrad Group governments convened on the last Monday of June in Bratislava. The meeting in Slovakia’s capital focused on the situation in Ukraine and Russia, as well as the EU’s migration and climate policy. Despite voices claiming the V4 is gradually losing its relevance, a sense of shared interests and a desire for continued cooperation was palpably felt. What are Hungary’s views on the evolution of the V4 and attempts to strengthen it in the future?
A: The heads of the Visegrad Group governments convened on the last Monday of June in Bratislava. The meeting in Slovakia’s capital focused on the situation in Ukraine and Russia, as well as the EU’s migration and climate policy. Despite voices claiming the V4 is gradually losing its relevance, a sense of shared interests and a desire for continued cooperation was palpably felt. What are Hungary’s views on the evolution of the V4 and attempts to strengthen it in the future?
Q: When the Three Seas Initiative was founded, there were inaccurate claims coming from the West that this was a planned sabotage within the European Union. However, the goals that the Three Seas set are in alignment with the strategic goals of the European Union. If the actions taken within the Three Seas Initiative hasten the implementation of these goals or elevate their priority, it will be advantageous for all parties. What role does the Three Seas Initiative play for Hungary?
A: Hungary places significant emphasis on regional cooperation in Central Europe, where the Three Seas Initiative plays a pivotal role. We have been an active member of the Initiative since its very beginning. We support the execution of joint development projects for the energy, digital, and transport base. Looking at the map of European infrastructure, a 30-year-old gap – a legacy of the Soviet era – can be seen in Central Europe. It especially concerns the underdevelopment of energy and transport in the north-south direction. These are areas that need to be addressed, and the 3SI provides an excellent framework for this. Hungary has always advocated for a project-oriented approach, as projects are the cornerstone of the 3SI and contribute significantly to achieving our common goals. Hungary also joined the Three Seas Initiative, and, in 2021, proposed 16 projects in the fields of digitization, transport, and energy.
All members of the 3SI are also part of the EU, so bolstering the Initiative means strengthening the European Union in its entirety. We must remember that the 3SI is not an adversary of the EU, but rather an initiative supporting its objectives. Hungary wishes to remain an active member of the European Union and, given our geographical location and the current geopolitical situation, we are continually assessing how we can provide fresh impetus to regional cohesion. It is in the interest of the countries in the region to develop a closer and more comprehensive partnership in these areas to prepare for future challenges.
Q: In the context of energy and Europe, energy security is increasingly associated with energy independence. Undoubtedly, the war in Ukraine has compelled many European countries to diversify their energy mix and introduce new investment plans in the energy sector. What are Hungary’s priorities concerning investments in this sector and further diversification?
A: The primary aim of Hungary’s energy strategy is to ensure a constant security of energy supply, affordable energy prices for its people, and decarbonization of energy production. Energy independence is a matter of economic and national security. Hungary is keen on reducing energy import dependence and diversifying energy imports, both in terms of sources and routes.
However, Hungary’s geographical location limits the potential for natural gas diversification. As a landlocked country, we rely on the infrastructure development of neighboring countries for access to LNG. Therefore, Hungary considers it a priority to support efforts that can potentially enhance the security of natural gas supplies to Hungary. One of the major diversification projects of routes and sources is the so-called “Ring of Solidarity”, which aims to create the technological conditions for the delivery of Azerbaijani gas to our region, thus contributing to the security of gas supplies to Central and Eastern Europe.
Another alternative could be the exploitation of Romanian natural gas resources in the Black Sea (Neptun Deep project) and the import of these resources. The benefits for supply security, resulting from limiting dependence on import, are most apparent in the case of natural gas, as this energy carrier accounts for 32–33% of total energy consumption in Hungary. In recent years, domestic production covered about 20% of consumption, making the country reliant on imports in 80%. Our goal for 2030 is to reduce the share of gas imports to about 70% by reducing consumption and increasing domestic production.
Another strategic goal is to cover import needs in 2030 from as diversified sources as possible. In addition, our region will enhance its LNG reception capabilities within the next 3 to 5 years. Hungary is also exploring the possibilities of playing a role in the construction of terminals and reservation of capacities. The government also strives to ensure that as much Hungarian electricity as possible is generated from carbon-neutral sources: nuclear and renewable energy, primarily solar. We view natural gas as an important transitional energy carrier in electricity production, necessary for further increasing the capacities of weather-dependent renewable energy sources. These are not mutually exclusive technologies, but mutually supportive solutions, and both can be considered as sources of clean energy. Almost half of the electricity produced in Hungary (45%) comes from carbon-neutral nuclear energy. Thanks to the investment in Paks 2, this result can be maintained in the long-term perspective. Carbon-neutral energy production is impossible without nuclear energy. In addition, the share of solar energy in energy production in Hungary (13%) is the third highest among EU member states.
Q: Romanian Transgaz and Hungarian FGSZ have collaborated to enhance the transport of natural gas from Romania to Hungary. The plan is to ramp up supplies from 280,000 to 300,000 cubic meters per hour. The aim of so-called “Ring of Solidarity” is to collaborate with Bulgaria and Azerbaijan. What will this cooperation look like in the future, or, more specifically, what can we expect from it within 3SI?
A: On April 25, 2023, in Sofia, the energy ministers of Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovakia, on behalf of the natural gas distribution system operators functioning in these countries, and on the Hungarian side, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó and the head of the Ministry of Energy of Azerbaijan signed a political declaration of intent. The goal is to ensure the delivery of Azerbaijani/alternative natural gas to our region following certain modernizations of the transmission infrastructure between Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia. According to the declaration, the system operators will investigate what improvements and what timeline for their implementation are necessary to guarantee the swiftest possible delivery of Azerbaijani gas to our region. The pipeline would have a potential capacity of about 5 to 9.5 billion cubic meters of gas per year. It is expected that, by the end of this year, up to 100 million cubic meters of natural gas from Azerbaijan may reach Hungary.
Q: The upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius is set to resolve significant issues related to defense orders and investments. Hungary has been a prominent buyer in the German arms market, which has accelerated the expansion of the Hungarian army. Hungary’s defense spending is expected to exceed 2% of GDP in 2023. Could you comment on how this affects NATO’s defense potential and how it is tangible proof of Hungary’s commitment?
A: Hungary is a dedicated and proactive member of the NATO alliance system. One of the proofs of this is the fact that in 2024, the defense budget will surpass 2 percent of GDP, significantly expediting the development process of the armed forces. So, Hungary is one of the nine NATO member states that within the Alliance not only meet NATO standards but also exceed them. The overall development of the Hungarian armed forces is progressing dynamically and stably. Thanks to the reform of the armed forces in Hungary, we will have PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzers, H225M multi-purpose transport helicopters, Leopard 2A7+ tanks, NASAMS anti-aircraft missile systems and Gidran armored tactical vehicles. Next year, we will also have L39NG aircraft. Hungarian forces are enhancing their interoperability within the Alliance by systematizing advanced technologies also used by our NATO allies and building a modern army that meets contemporary expectations and is combat-ready. In addition to the development of the armed forces, Hungary also plays a role in NATO operations. It is continually active in the Alliance’s military missions, such as KFOR, Baltic Air Defense (BAP). Also, together with Poland and the Czech Republic, we support the air defense of our northern neighbor, Slovakia. Hungarian forces are also active participants in NATO military exercises, which help to strengthen effective military cooperation between the members of the Alliance. All this clearly indicates that Hungary attaches the utmost importance to ensuring that NATO remains the most successful defense alliance of all time.
dr Orsolya Zsuzsanna Kovács – hungarian lawyer, official and diplomat, from March 2, 2017, the Hungarian ambassador to Poland. A graduate of law at the Péter Pázmány Catholic University (2006), where she obtained her doctorate. She was on scholarships at the University of Tübingen and the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw. She obtained an LLM in German law at Andrássy University.
From 2006 to 2010 she worked as an analyst for Polish affairs at Nézőpont Intézet. From 2010, she worked at the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice, e.g. as deputy head of the department. In 2016, she started working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. A year later, she became the ambassador of Hungary in Poland
About the interviewer:
Liliana Śmiech graduated in International Business from the Cracow University of Economics, in Energy Studies at the Warsaw School of Economics, in Energy Within Environmental Constraints at HarvardX and in Energy Economics and Policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. President of the think tank Warsaw Institute. Scholarship holder of the Japanese government programme MIRAI Politics&Security. Co-author of the report “Energy Poverty – Situation of Households in 2021”.
She has gained professional experience in the European Parliament and in major multinational corporations. Her main interests are energy transition, sustainable development and geopolitics. Privately, she is a sailor, beekeeper, judge and artistic gymnastics coach.